Messi vs Ronaldo: Heading Ability

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Photo: Maxisports

There have been a very few players in the history of the game with skills as polished and complete as Lionel Messi’s or Cristiano Ronaldo’s.

While watching the Argentine in action a few things clearly emerge, his dribbling, his pace, his eye for a pass, his dexterity in tight spaces, his dead ball ability, his ability to drop deep and retrieve the ball and thread it through to players up front in order to initiate an attacking move.

With Ronaldo too some aspects just leap out of the screen, his pace, his direct and speedy runs (which are again function of his pace), his ability to attack space in the box in anticipation of a goalscoring opportunity (poacher’s instinct, if you like), his dead-ball ability, his aerial prowess.

Did you notice a telling difference between the two?

With Ronaldo, his aerial prowess just stands out. His amazing leap and ability to direct a ball beyond the goalkeeper’s reach is simply outstanding. There are not many in the game who can match the Portuguese’s heading ability.

Real Madrid played the two legs of their Champions League round of 16 tie against Schalke this week. The Spaniards won the first leg 2-0, Ronaldo scored the first. In the second leg at the Santiago Bernabeu the Germans triumphed 4-3 but lost 5-4 on the aggregate. Ronaldo scored the first two of the hosts’ goals. All his three goals were headers. And all three of them were of exquisite quality.

Here’s the first one:

Granted the defenders were caught ball-watching and they gave the Real Madrid talisman a virtual free-run to head that exquisite ball from Dani Carvajal, but the Portuguese’s leap was well-timed and well-placed to land beyond the goalkeeper’s reach.

Here’s the first header from the second leg in Madrid:

It is another illustration of Ronaldo’s amazing leap, how he rose highest of the three players who were specifically there to put the ball beyond the reach of Real Madrid’s number 7, but they were left as mere spectators as he rose highest to head it home.

Ronaldo’s second from the second leg:

This is a perfect example of Ronaldo’s poacher instincts. The Portuguese starts on the left flank, Karim Benzema starts through the centre and Gareth bale occupies the right flank in a typical 4-3-3 employed by manager Carlo Ancelotti.

Now, leading to this goal when Isco plays the ball to the overlapping Fabio Coentrao, you will notice that Ronaldo anticipates the cross perfectly and moves into the area to head the ball home. The leap and placement is again of sumptuous quality, but the vision is exemplary as well.

Bale, rather than Ronaldo, should have been attacking that ball considering that it is played towards the Welshman’s flank but instead the Real Madrid world record signing appears to be meandering away from the action. It just goes to show Ronaldo’s eyes for a goal which gets embellished by his superb heading ability.

The Conclusion

Messi possesses a fantastic heading ability as well, but at 1.69m the Argentine just cannot be expected to win headers playing against defenders who are typically taller. At 1.85m, Ronaldo will always have an upper hand over Messi when it comes to evading tall markers to send the ball in the back of the net.

But take nothing away from the little genius, he has magic not just in his feet but his head too. Given room to manoeuvre, he is as adept at directing the ball with his head as he is with it at his feet.

Here’s a perfect example:


Football Against the Enemy: Soccer Book Review

Football Against the Enemy

Rating: 5/5, Simon Kuper is undoubtedly among the best football writers of the current generation. This book, his first, won the 1994 William Hill Sports Book of the Year award.


Son of an anthropologist father, Kuper studied History and German at the prestigious Oxford University, and later attended Harvard University as a Kennedy Scholar.

His literary debut is a football classic especially for those with an anthropological bent and those who see football as more than just a game.

Part football, part anthropology and part travelogue, Football Against the Enemy was a book waiting to happen and Kuper was the first to do it.

Kuper travels the world from Cameroon to Boston to the Baltics. South Africa, the Netherlands, England and Argentina among a number of various places to give a firsthand account of the way football has permeated the life and politics of different cultures separated by ethnicities, race, religion, and vast geographical distance.

Kuper’s inimitable wit brings the book alive as he recollects his encounters with the Bad Blue Boys of Dynamo Zagreb, interviews from the time Sir Bobby Robson managed PSV Eindhoven, and the time the Argentine President Carlos Menem, in his 60s, played football against the British diplomats. He recollects a myriad other enchanting stories.

The Goods

At the time when the book came out, pre-internet age of 1994, there was no proliferation of blogs and websites dedicated to culture and various other niche aspects of football covering individual leagues of the world. The book was revolutionary at the time of its release and despite the passing years, it has aged gracefully as the stories remain relevant as ever.

Kuper’s humour and his perfect pacing and length of the stories make the book a riveting read.

In the chapter titled “Gazza, Europe and the fall of Margaret Thatcher”, Kuper tries to make sense of the lure of the British hero Paul Gascoigne and explains how Gazza’s common English looks and attitude but a continental playing style was the reason for his never-ending love affair with the English football-loving public.

In “Dutch and English: Why Bobby Robson Failed in England”, the writer goes in detail to explain how the Dutch culture is in stark contrast to the English meaning Robson’s appointment at PSV was headed only one way –failure.

In the chapter “From Boston to Bangladesh: At the 1994 World Cup”, Kuper quite comprehensively explains how the NASL’s targeting of the family crowd meant that women became attracted to football more than their male counterparts in the US.

He quite aptly observes, “Football is a window into a nation’s politics, but won’t change it.”

The book is rife with such clever and succinct observations.

The Not So Goods

Well, thinking long and hard after finishing the book, I couldn’t really think of anything that irked me about it. Just about perfect. 20 years on since its publication, perhaps, a sequel is due.


A great journey through different football cultures and an attempt to study, whether a nation’s characteristics shape its football. In the midst filled with clever observations and anecdotes, all of it done at breathtaking pace. Kuper is a virtuoso of his art, and his debut work will leave you wanting for more.

Football Against the Enemy